A Buddhist monk couldn’t find the right place to meditate. Wherever he went, he couldn’t find the tranquillity he wanted. One day, he got on a boat and rowed to the center of a lake. He stopped there and started meditating.

After a few hours, he felt another boat hitting his own. Though anger towards the rower of the boat rose inside, the monk continued meditating. But the boat kept on butting and disturbing him. At last, the monk woke up ready to take it out on the reckless boatman. However, all he saw was an empty boat, not tied up, floating on the lake.

At that moment, he came to a profound realization. He understood that the restlessness is within him and that a gentle nudge from the outside is enough to provoke it. Once it became clear that he needs to calm himself first to avoid distractions, he achieved enlightenment.

I am quite disturbed lately. Working from home, thanks to the pandemic, has not been so easy. It’s a challenge to find a quiet place in a house of 5 noisy adults and 2 mischievous children. But as if the racket was not enough, it dawned on my mother one fine morning that our home needs remodeling.

The thought culminated in a series of events. From planning to finding contractors to vanishing bank balance to ear-splitting noise of cutting and drilling, it took only a few days. I found myself juggling office work and household chores and monitoring the remodeling and purchasing the materials while balancing on a thin line caught between the depression and total breakdown.

Then I saw this story. On one of those rare occasions where I checked my Facebook feed, it was there waiting for me. The timing couldn’t be more perfect for my good friend Robin to post it. Though I had read the tale before, I couldn’t relate to it in the past.  

Like the monk, I started to see that the problem is not the clamor without, but the unrest within me.

Unrealistic Expectations

Life is difficult. It is one of the four noble truths that Buddha taught his disciples. Its ebb and flow bring with it a series of problems. One after the other, they keep coming. 

But somehow, we expect this flow to cease after each problem. We believe that everything will be alright after we get through the issue at hand. Therein lies the real problem. Our expectation of hassle-free living makes it harder to endure the innate troubles of life.

 “Life without problems is a school without lessons.”

Problems are part and parcel of life. It is like the net in the game of tennis. Though getting the ball above the net is difficult, it is that difficulty that makes the game a game. There is no tennis without the net.

Knowing the problem

So how can we endure such situations as I am in right now? The only thing we can do is to keep calm amidst all the clamor.

Once we realize that problems will never cease, we can give up the notion of relaxing after the problems are over. Then we will be able to find peace even in the middle of all troubles. Maintaining repose at the core of the being, like the eye of a hurricane, is the way to approach life.

Jesus teaches this by sleeping calmly even when the boat goes through a great storm. His disciples lose their cool and fear for their life. When they woke Jesus up, he commands the raging sea and the howling wind and admonishes his followers for losing their poise

The Remedy

 “Happiness is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with them.” Charles De Montesquieu

But how can we attain such a level of inner peace? Indeed the first step is to know that the problem is within us. But that is not enough; we have to find a way to remedy it.

I think, firstly, we have to realize the fleeting nature of our phenomenal world. It takes no philosopher to teach us that nothing we see around is permanent. We know in the core of our being that every experience, good or bad, is momentary.

This realization will get us to the second idea: aloofness. If we understand the impermanence of the outside world, we will not be too attached to it. We can thus avoid the waves of emotion, which hits its crests and troughs with each passing experience. Though physical distancing is not possible on many occasions, emotional withdrawal can avoid unnecessary stress.

Our prejudice towards things is another obstacle. We have many presumptions about life. On many occasions, it may be our past experiences and trauma that shapes prejudice and exacerbates the pain. It is better to find the root cause in such situations.

Keeping Poise

When we realize that we cannot shut the world up, but can shut it out, our perspective changes. It is not impossible to find a quiet place inside, where we can find peace, even when we are plagued by unrest.   

A peaceful place inside is like the eye of a cyclone. Even if the dangerous forces are wreaking havoc in the periphery, the center remains calm and unaffected. Such poise is quite hard to achieve, but not impossible.

Think of the possibility of remaining calm and peaceful even when the whole world crumbles around you. As this is literally true in my case, I am now focusing on inner peace. I am partially able to act like the monk and stop myself from running out of the house when the wall to my right gets blown out. Still, I do get carried away sometimes.   

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